Film and TV

Of Rattlesnakes and Quinceañeras: Top Chef: Texas

This is the time at which I should point out that I don't have a DVR and in fact only recently got cable (which is awesome and, whoa, so many episodes of House Hunters!). That means that each week at 9 p.m., I quit whatever awesome thing I'm doing and come back to my 430-square-foot apartment to watch Top Chef: Texas on my TV with no remote control and a tenuous Internet connection.

Tonight's awesome thing that I left was a mead dinner by two of my favorite chefs. A dinner that featured an entire roasted cow femur -- a veritable marrow trough -- and a dinner which I had to quit before the whole roasted suckling pig was even presented. At least I had the marrow...

I called my mother as I raced from the dinner back home to see if I was missing anything important. Her response: "Meh. They're doing something with snake."

Me: "What kind of snake? Rattlesnake?"

Mother: "Yeah, I guess. Whatever. It's Texas, so you know it's probably rattlesnake."

Home, finally, and it looks like Dakota won the Quickfire competition -- the one with the rattlesnake -- and is granted immunity for the episode's larger challenge. And now the contestants are being told that they're cooking for some VIPs. It turns out that it's a quinceañera and some guy yells "Orale!" Ay, digame, brother! This quince is "expecting elegant Mexican cuisine" and I'm thinking, you clearly did not attend the same quinceañeras that I did growing up. The chefs are divided into two teams and given 30 minutes to create a menu.

Heather throws out tres leches as a dessert option -- nice. But the nearly-15-year-old wants cabrito, too. ALSO NICE. She tells the chefs that her favorite Mexican food is cochinita pibil and I'm really pleased to see all three of these dishes represented on this show.

The teams take their $1,500 budgets and head to two different semi-upscale grocery stores. One of the teams is asking for stuff in Spanish at the seafood counter and one of them is rightly freaking out that they're having to get store-bought tortillas. Again, seems right so far.

The Pink Team's menu contains some dishes that sound like they have potential, except that the entire thing is derailed by the discovery that their shrimp are pre-cooked and frozen. The team is pissed at Keith, who clearly thought that buying pre-cooked shrimp was the solution here, time constraints and all. Big mistake. Big. Huge! He's mad that one of the lady chefs is "talking shit" about him, but all I hear is regular, frustrated kitchen talk that happens when someone fucks up a major ingredient. That's to be expected, Keith.

"I'm the resident Mexican of the bunch," says Chuy. It pains me that Chuy (CHUY) is the token Mexican in a cooking show about Texas. I don't need to say that Mexicans and Mexican cooking are the freaking backbone of our state, right? Okay.

Keith is still pissing me off because he's attempting to cook a meal by committee, which is as terrible an idea as they come when you're under the gun and need to make swift, decisive choices. Someone has to step up; a kitchen isn't a fucking democracy when you're in the middle of service. This complaint should have been voiced earlier on when the menu itself was still being created.

He and Lindsey and Sarah all want to be the boss, which is not sitting well with the other team members. But you know what? You're all gonna be done and off y'all's damn pink and green teams in less than three hours, so TOUGH IT OUT.

Meanwhile, the camera cuts to the fanciest quince I've ever seen. I guess San Antonio Mexicans class this shit up. On a related note, I would not want Padma Lakshmi and her slinky dress and hair flower at my goddamned quince. Way to outshine a 15-year-old, Padma. For fuck's sake.

I do like that the 15-year-old is calling out the Pink Team's chicharrons and huaraches like she's a fucking umpire in the Mexican Cooking Games. She's good, and she knows what she's talking about. Good girl.

And then...there's some ceviche made with tilapia from the Pink Team. Just fuck right off. What a miserable fish to use in a ceviche when I know goddamned well you were in a supermarket with a dozen other, better choices. For a quince, sure. For Top Chef? Seriously. Go home.

"Like it or not, Keith's made a burrito." Well, that was bound to happen at some point. Also, time is crawling by. How is it only 9:30 p.m.? I never expected the show to be this tedious.

The Green Team looks to be in better shape so far with goat birria and goat cheese empanadas and short rib asada and chicken in ancho pepita mole. I'd eat ALL of that. However, neither team made their tortillas (although the Green Team at least griddled theirs). Such a shame not to have freshly made tortillas right in the middle of San Antonio...

"Let's not jump to any conclusions," says Padma of the Green Team's early success. "We still have cake." Speaking of which...

"Heather's cake looks like an Easter cake gone bad," says one contestant. It's truly hideous, looking like a half-collapsed Baked Alaska garnished with the dry greens you find filling in the spaces in expensive but tacky floral arrangements.

Now someone's crying. About their dad. While the quince princess dances with her dad. I don't like this pulling-at-heartstrings stuff on a game show; I have a soft enough heart as it is without Bravo reminding me that it's been too long since I called my dad and now I'm crying a little too. STOP IT.

Meanwhile, the Green Team wins. Obviously. And although I initially liked Epic Beard Keith, I'm ready for him to go home.

"This is my first judge's table," says Sarah. "I don't know what to expect." I expect you and Paul Qui to stick around for quite a while, so don't talk like that.

Ty-Lor, Sarah, Lindsey and Keith are called up by Padma to the table. Three who struggled for exec position on the line, and one who's...named after a hippie Viking? The only reason Dakota isn't there is because she gained immunity during the Quickfire round, as she's the one responsible for that abomination of an Easter quince cake.

When Hughibrow says that the Green Team's tortilla was crappy, the camera cuts to the most horrified expression on Sarah's face. The Texas girl knows that those tortillas were fucked up; it's all over her face. She's even more horrified when the panel points out that the team's enchiladas were made -- by Keith -- with flour tortillas. It's like she's subconsciously expressing her abject desire for supplication to all fellow Texans with these painful faces she's making.

Colicchio points out that although all of these chefs are big-time-stuff -- Beard nominees, execs at Spiaggia -- it was ultimately miscommunication and ego-clashing that brought them down. IT'S LIKE A GRAND METAPHOR FOR LIFE.

Aaaaaand, Keith is gone. His departure was almost forecast throughout the entire episode, his fuckups and excuses spotlighted far more than any other contestants'. I'm not surprised, nor do I think viewers will be. It's a shame, too, as the other chefs seem to really like Keith and call him a "giant teddy bear." Reality TV can portray you in the worst possible light, no matter how good of a person you may be. Between this old complaint and the feeling that the eliminee was scripted throughout the episode, I'm not sure how excited I can continue to be about Top Chef: Texas.

And I left a marrow trough for this.

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Katharine Shilcutt